Thursday, May 31, 2012

A reminder to myself

I met with my book club last night at the The Local--where we always meet in a cool little room. Aside from meeting in a bar, this club is different like any book club is different. But the main real differences are that the group is all men and only reads fiction. The only rules are that is has to be 350 pages or less and that none of the six of us can have read the book previously.

It's been good for me in a number of ways. Giving up control of my reading life and having discussions that otherwise wouldn't take place. I always come away feeling like I understand the book better and best of all it is fun. Reading gets pushed at people for any number of reasons: continued growth/education, interacting with a somewhat silent object, it's good for you, etc. Yet it should be fun--maybe not always--but mostly, in my opinion.

Last night's discussion involved Steve Erickson's "These Dreams Of You." Europa has a reputation of publishing international fiction and books that are a bit outside the norm. While I wouldn't really term this book experimental, it does do some interesting things in both its form and telling. I kept thinking, "This book is messy." And it is for both better, and sometimes, worse. Yet its emotion and contemporary cultural themes are very strong. Adoption, race, the housing crisis and music are just a few of its main themes.

While walking back to catch the lightrail I was reminded that some of the best discussions about books go so far beyond, "It was good." Or, "I didn't like it very much." The differences in opinion lead to discussion and the personal things we all bring to the book and its reading twist things up.

Before joining this group I didn't get the appeal of these groups. Many become set times to drink wine or catch up on the kids. And that's fine. Moreso, I was wrong in some of my assumptions. I enjoy all of our meetings regardless of how much I liked the book, which I almost always have. It's a common reading experience that I gain from. I can't wait to hear what our next book will be.

It's easy to pigeon-hole things you know next to nothing about. Are there lots of groups reading the same stuff because other people are? Sure. Are there groups where people don't read the books? Sure. I also get to see all the great stuff the book clubs we deal with are reading. The range and scope is broad. The time periods encompass most of the last 100 years. Poetry, fiction and all kinds of non-fiction. It's a good thing for Micawber's, to be sure. It is also good for many of the readers and it's been very good to me.

One meeting I missed was held at one member's house because Bruce Machart, the author of the book we read, skyped into the meeting to discuss the book and people loved it. I always tell people to mix it up--read a book and watch the film. Pair two similar or dissimilar books. Read a classic followed by something contemporary. Read something in translation. Do it all for the fun that can be had.

Europa's design department is always on point but this cover is striking. Many people asked me what I was reading at the park or on the train. Our server last night went home with my copy. Maybe she'll read it with her book club.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Field Notes National Crop Edition(and on inspiration for the entire brand) This is a link to a video done by the good people at Field Notes. Totally going against the grain of electronic notes and messages, these notebooks have great design with some actual history behind them. Aaron Drapin is quite an interesting fellow but do be warned that his language isn't always pg-rated.

Field Notes entire collection can be perused here.

We'll have the Crop Edition in next week and currently do have in stock most of the 50 states editions. $3 each.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Last week's Besties

Hardcover Non-Fiction

Passage of Power-Robert Caro
Are You My Mother?-Alison Bechdel
The Republican Brain-Chris Mooney
Behind the Beautiful Forevers-Katherine Boo
Rez Life-David Treuer
Quiet-Susan Cain
Why Nations Fail-Daron Acemoglu
Breasts-Florence Williams
Prague Winter-Madeleine Albright
Turn Here Sweet Corn-Altina Diffley

Paperback Non-Fiction

Rhubarb Renaissance-Kim Ode
In the Garden of Beasts-Erik Larson
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey-Fiona Carnarvon
The Wilder Life-Wendy McClure
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down-Anne Fadiman
The Hare With Amber Eyes-Edmund De Waal
The Happiness Project-Gretchen Rubin
Stand Up!: The Story of Minnesota's Protest Tradition-Rhoda Gilman
Triumph of the City-Edward Glaeser
Lost in Shangri-La-Mitchell Zuckoff

Hardcover Fiction
Bring Up The Bodies-Hilary Mantel
I Am a Pole-Stephen Colbert
Train Dreams-Denis Johnson
Rules of Civility-Amor Towles
Beginner's Goodbye-Anne Tyler
Death Comes To Pemberley-P.D. James
The Lifeboat-Charlotte Rogan
The Year of the Gadfly-Jennifer Miller
City of Bohane-Kevin Barry
I Am An Executioner-Rajesh Parameswaran

Paperback Fiction
Open City-Teju Cole
The Tiger's Wife-Tea Obreht
Half-Blood Blues-Esi Edugyan
State of Wonder-Ann Patchett
South of Superior-Ellen Airgood
Sisters Brothers-Patrick DeWitt
The Art of Fielding-Chad Harbach
The Last Warner Woman-Kei Miller
Ashes to Dust-Yrsa Sigurdardottir
The Confederacy of Dunces-John Kennedy Toole

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It Comes and Goes in Waves

My wife and I are expecting our third child in about 40 days. As that number begins to dwindle and the reality of that becomes more real it is a time of joy and waiting and nerves. That last emotion is, of course, about the new child but it also is about the change that will soon impact my reading life. For the first few months my free-time(reading) will shrink considerably. So I'm trying to crash through some books before that happens.

There are times when I get in a reading rut which, I assume, is akin to writer's block. Nothing appeals to me or grabs me and forces me to sit down with it. Luckily, my more usual problem is that of too many good things. The following five books of fiction are things I've just finished or am almost done with. They are dissimilar in too many ways to count but they do share some commonality as well. Good historical themes. Good looks at modern culture. Beautiful sentences with some humor thrown into the mix. They will forever, for me, form an odd fiction gumbo of a particular time in my life--pre-baby-numero-tres.

I don't often review books per se on this blog. That's not really my goal--just more of a small taste of what these books contain and, hopefully, whet the appetite of some of you out there.

Ben Fountain had a book of stories, "Brief Encounters With Che Guevara" a few years ago. One of the things I enjoyed was how well Fountain dealt with the variety of locales the stories took place in. Myanmar, Ghana and Haiti to name a few. He was also the focus of a great Malcolm Gladwell piece in the New Yorker. So I've been waiting on "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" with great anticipation. It's told in one day at, off all places, a Dallas Cowboys game. Soldiers who have returned from Iraq are the central characters and they are bold and funny and changed by what they've gone through. The novel in one day is no new trick but it's done rather well here.

Christopher Tilghman is an author I got to meet this past winter in New Orleans. He and Lydia Netzer(author of forthcoming "Shine Shine Shine" 07/12) had dinner with a dozen or so booksellers. Just being around him for that short period of time gave me an understanding of his storytelling ability, wit and charm. His historical look at a Chesapeake Bay estate in the 1920's is evocative and compelling. "The Right-Hand Shore" is a book to be savored while sitting on the porch. It deliberately doesn't move quickly and the rewards along the way are many.

I've been a fan of Emily St. John Mandel since other booksellers got me to read "Last Night in Montreal". Her third book with Unbridled Books is "The Lola Quartet" and she fully displays her ability to mix mystery with varied points of view. All three of her books make it seem simple for a novel to fun while not being simplistic--a trick not easily accomplished.

Nell Freudenberger is another author whose previous work compelled me to look at hew newest, "The Newlyweds." It comes with a pretty, colorful, jacket with birds. So it looks good, yes, but reads even better. She manages to tell a story about 'elsewhere' yet never gets heavy-handed in the telling. She was on the most recent list of twenty under forty writers to watch and it's easy to see why. It got a very nice review from Maureen Corrigan, who, for my money is one of the best reviewers at it.

Finally, we've got Rajesh Parameswaran's "I Am An Executioner: Love Stories." As Jason, one of our Random House sales reps, explained to a group of Twin Cities booksellers this past weekend, they are love stories but with varying twists. Surprise is the one element that joins the stories together. With each one I found myself guessing at what would occur and found myself being proved incorrect again and again. It's a book that is a little difficult to discuss briefly because it is an odd mish-mash. Walter Mosley did it well in saying, "Pitch-perfect stories that recalibrate the notion of love and power with dark humor and unbearable tenderness."

"Comes and Goes(in Waves)" is a song written by Greg Laswell. He's pretty neat.